Over the past fourteen weeks we have been exploring New Testament teaching that relates to achievement. As with our Old Testament Round-up, it is useful to pause here and pull this material together in a New Testament Round-up.
Fourteen Weeks in Review
1. The Parable of the Talents (Mat 25)
First, the parable of the talents teaches that using the resources entrusted to us is good and pleasing to God. Our productive work and wise management please him. It is right that responsible stewardship should lead to greater responsibility, and sitting on our hands is not a godly response. God’s pleasure in the growth of what he has entrusted is shared with his faithful stewards. It is a relational joy, which reveals the true reward of faithfulness—being in the joyous presence of our Master. (The first of this two-part series on the parable develops the exegetical issues.)
2. Mary and Martha (Luke 10)
Second, Jesus’ interaction with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38–42 is an excellent counterbalance to the parable of the tenants. While the parable exhorts us to “get busy” and faithfully steward the resources God has entrusted to us, this episode reminds us that it is even more important to obey God’s instruction at Jesus’ transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Our achievements, stewardship, and, yes, even works of service take a backseat to listening to Jesus in humble adoration.
3. Bearing Fruit (John 15)
Next, we saw from the fruit and the vine discourse in John 15:1–8 that Jesus’ disciples are expected to be fruitful, to “Bear Fruit,” which is only possible in union with Christ. Disciple-achievement is a type of fruitfulness, though fruitfulness includes more than this too.
4. Achievement as Sons of God (Gal 3)
Galatians 3:26–29 reminded us that we are “sons of God” through faith in Christ Jesus. We are all one in him, equal members of God’s family. This means that achievement means nothing for our status before God; our status is entirely determined by being in Christ.
5. Achievement and the Cross (1 Cor 1)
In “Achivement and Cross,” we considered 1 Corinthians 1:18–25 and saw that God puts a very high premium on humility, on self-sacrifice, and other-person-centeredness. The message of the cross reveals that weakness triumphs over strength when strength is self-serving and puffed up. This means that achievement for followers of Jesus Christ may not be recognized as achievement by the world at large. Our “achievements in Christ” may be perceived as weakness and folly. And we must learn to be content with this, for it is necessary to share in his cross if we are to share in his resurrection.
6. Achievement and Boasting (1 Cor 1)
Continuing the discussion in 1 Cor 1:26-30, “Achievement and Boasting” notes how Paul rules out human boasting. If we truly understand what Christ has done for us, we may never boast in our achievements—whatever they may be. Boasting in the Lord means that we may say, “thanks be to God” that he has enabled our every achievement, accomplishment, and fruitful production. As long as Christ is truly the object of our thanks, praise, and glory, our “achievements in Christ” may be celebrated rather than suppressed. But if our achievement is the real object of our praise and glory—rather than Christ—then we have reverted to worldly boasting in self.
7. Paul and Work (2 Thes 3)
On the topic of “Paul and Work,” we turned to 2 Thessalonians 3. There, Paul reminds us that it is simply a fundamental part of living and getting by in the world (Genesis 2). Work is good, and the provision for oneself and others is an inherently good achievement.
8. The Work of the Lord (1 Cor 15)
In the most detailed discussion of the entire sequence, I dedicated three posts to Paul’s exhortation to “work in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58) that is not in vain. The question is whether this “work” is narrowly ministerial or includes all work done in the name of Christ. After laying out the two positions in my first post, “The Work of the Lord,” my second post, “The Work of the Lord and Christian Ministry,” argued that Paul’s reference to work relates to Christian ministry. Such work in the Lord—encompassing the full spectrum of Christian ministry—bears eternal fruit and in this way is a distinct type of work. But this is not to denigrate “other” types of work, which, as we have clearly affirmed in the final post, “Why Other work Matters Too,” is a good part of God’s creation that is pleasing to him, whether or not its fruit lasts for eternity.
9. Fan into Flame the Gift of God (2 Tim 1)
Finally, in 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul exhorts Timothy to “Fan into Flame the gift of God.” He is to develop his giftedness for ministry, and preach like a man on fire. This teaches us that giftedness requires nurturing, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in one’s abilities in ministry, in “Igniting the Flame.” It also reminds us that God works through our human efforts in service of him.
There is no doubt much more that could be said from the pages of the New Testament. From this overview, however, we see that in various ways the New Testament builds on the foundations of Old Testament teaching. The fundamental truth that work and achievement are inherently good things—established by God in the created order—is assumed in the New Testament. So too is the reality that they have been warped by sin. Achievement is to be understood in light of the cross, our union with Christ, the gifting of God, and the command to fruitfulness—all to the glory of God in Christ.
Achievement is not the ultimate goal. The goal is to live in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. The goal is to bring glory to God. But we see that diligence in using the gifts he has given us, fruitfulness, and achievement are part of what he wants from us. Achievement should not be shunned as a pagan concept that can only be self-glorifying. To achieve is part of the divine order, just as it flows from God’s own nature.
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